Emperor Akihito tells of 'deep remorse' over Japan's role in Second World War
Emperor Akihito has expressed rare "deep remorse" over his country's wartime actions in an address marking the 70th anniversary of Japan's Second World War surrender.
"Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated," Akihito said in his speech.
Japanese media said it was the first time he had used the words "deep remorse" in reference to the war.
Akihito also emphasised that Japan's peace and prosperity stand on "the people's tireless endeavours and their earnest desire for peace", and renewed his war-renouncing pledge.
The speech came a day after prime minister Shinzo Abe fell short of apologising in his own words to the victims of Japanese aggression.
Mr Abe stayed away from a contentious Yasukuni shrine that honours war criminals among other war dead. He instead prayed and laid flowers at a national cemetery for unnamed soldiers ahead of the annual ceremony at Tokyo's Budokan hall.
That ceremony started with a moment of silence to mark the radio announcement by Emperor Hirohito, Akihito's father, of Japan's surrender on August 15 1945.
Even though they are subtle and still rather neutral, remarks by the emperor on Japan's wartime past in recent years have caught attention, often portrayed in the media to contrast with Mr Abe's nationalist and hawkish image, especially as he pushes to give Japan's military an expanded role and change Japan's pacifist constitution.
Mr Abe issued a closely monitored statement on the eve of the anniversary, acknowledging damage and suffering on innocent people but falling short of apologising in his own words to the victims of Japan's aggression.
He donated Shinto-style religious ornaments for the Yasukuni shrine, as he has done in the past since his last visit in December 2013, which triggered uproar from China and South Korea. However, two of his cabinet ministers prayed at the shrine, and about 60 national policymakers also visited.
The politicians said they merely wanted to pay respect to those who sacrificed their lives for their country, but because Yasukuni mostly enshrines soldiers, many see it as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.